The 2014 Succeed©/USDF FEI Level Trainer’s Conference led by Steffen Peters and Scott Hassler, yet again proved to be two days of tips that really give the audience a view inside the mind of Steffen Peters, who not only competes as a successful rider in the competition arena at the highest level, but also trains horses from the very beginning. As Steffen worked through a problem either while riding a horse or coaching, he explained moment by moment the decision he makes and why. The tips are clear, concise and simple. The most important advice: 1. be sure your horse’s mind is engaged at all times, 2. pick and keep one neck position during a ride, 3. drive forward off a quick aid within a movement, 4. test the horse and try to simplify the aids through every exercise. Taking place at Mary Anne McPhail’s High Meadow Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida, the conference featured seven different horses and riders from all stages of development and over 200 audience attendees. Here is a glimpse inside the conference.
Riding a Young Horse:
Steffen worked with Deklan, a KWPN five year old, 18 hand, gelding owned and ridden by Mette Larsen from Riverhead, NY.
Steffen said, “The young horses I ride, I want to be sure they understand the clear aid, they are adjustable more connected. If the horse likes to go and run, I will stay steady in the rhythm, not hurried or rushing. When we picked up the canter, he pushed against the bridle, so we try again. I want his neck more down, so he doesn’t think to go against the bridle.
He continued, "What is behind the bit?
This is confusing in this sport. Yes, he’s a little bit behind the vertical, but he’s comfortable with the contact here. I can ask for some inside flexion, but I go right back to the outside rein. I’m not encouraging him to be over-round, but I want him to be so comfortable first, before I want him to think about his hind leg.
Yes, we want to push the horse from behind to the hand, but first he must be comfortable and working within the gait. He must be respectful of the contact; he must be respectful of the aids to encourage his mind.
Steffen's words of advice: "I see so many young horses stretching down to the bit for much too long. The horse comes up with all sorts of habits like twisting at the jaw, when they need a job, to be mentally engaged. I also don’t want the horse too high and deep, but the most important thing is to keep his mind active. At the end of the ride, I let him stretch, but respectful. He cannot be rude about it. I use a little bit long right flexion and left flexion.
Before we can work the hind legs, we must have all these things first: the respect, the roundness, the contact. When we have all that, then we can push the hind legs up."
Heidi Degele riding Don Fredo HD, a six year old Oldenburg gelding, by Don Fredrico, owned by Greystone Equestrian, LLC.
Horse neck position: “As a rider you have to be in charge of where the neck position must be for that ride. The neck may need to be low to make the horse comfortable or it may need to be high at that moment in his strength, on that day. For each ride, the rider must select a neck position and keep it there. Once the neck position has been selected, the rider can begin to focus on the other things like the movements they are working on.
Advice on engaging the inner hind-leg: "To engage the inner hind leg, I’m not convinced that inside flexion will do it, yes the shoulder-in will help, but I want to be forward and to make sure my horse is comfortable and I’m using the least amount of aids possible. What I don’t want are the haunches swinging out. The shoulder-in must be easy. The horse must carry himself. The horse cannot drift.
Ilse Schwarz riding Don Joseph, a seven year old, Oldeburg gelding by Don Kennedy, owned by Gaye Scarpa.
Canter Quarter Pirouettes:
"Test, Test, Test - If she feels the quarter pirouette dies, she must forget the pirouette and do an extended canter. The horse must be ready to always move forward from the rider’s leg. Remember collection is a forward movement.
Test the simplicity. If he’s crooked, we fix it.
Straightness: "I don’t think it’s always necessary to ride every horse in shoulder-in or shoulder-fore for straightness. Make it simply. If it can be done more simply, then okay. Ilse is quick with her hand, she knows how to put him on the outside rein, but can fix him quickly between the hands.
Working walk pirouette to canter pirouette: "We want the whip on the outside. It’s important he understands the exercise, then gets stronger. It’s not about making a small pirouette, but him understanding the aids – It’s about the testing. Later he will get stronger."
The walk: "It’s important to work the walk every day. Make good positive habits."
Angela Jackson from Henderson Kentucky rode Allure S, an eight year old KWPN-NA mare, by Rousseau, owned by KC Dunn.
Jessica J (JJ) Tate rides Fabrege, a ten year old Westfalen gelding owned by Elizabeth Guerlsco-Wolf.
Olivia LaGoy-Weltz from Reston, Virginia rode Rassing's Lonoir, a nine year old gelding by De Noir.